I returned to the Jesuit house of 1730 and it was an awesome experience, thanks to the Sys and their dependable associate, Venus. The gracious host accommodated me and students from USC inside the Old Jesuit House. According to Venus, Fr. Rene Javellana SJ has been providing the technical supervision in the preservation of this classic Bahay na Bato. This of course is a welcome development, since Fr. Javellana is a respected historian; he’s now at the helm of reviving the old casa of his beloved Order.
During my first visit, I was unable gain access inside the house because back then everything was by appointmen. So I was taking pictures from the outside since the security personnel wouldn’t allow me to go inside. Now that they’ve formally opened its doors to the public, I couldn’t be happier that I was among the first to have seen it.
Currently, entrance is gratis but they’ve indicated that they would need funds to restore the whole place. Turning it into a museum is a viable project but there’s still a lot of work to be done since the house has been a bodega for decades after the Sys bought it from the Alvarez family (they used it as their residence), it has sustained several damages. I couldn’t believe that after all of what it went through, this house made of coral stones and wood is still standing, it’s a miracle that it still is – its one tough house, testament to the resilient building materials and the superb skills of those who made it.
The first thing that would need to be done is placing a marker in the premises. I think the gate in Mabini (formerly Calle Binakayan) where the symbolic bas reliefs of the Jesuits can be found is a good spot because historically this is where the Jesuit first built their gate. But for practical reasons, the Zulueta entrance should be considered, since it is here that a marker would get more attention. Looking at the old pictures the opening at Calle Zulueta was added later on when the casa expanded, based on what I’ve seen; Bldg. B was a later addition. Jesuits are known study plants for their medicinal properties in Visayas so I could imagine that they once had a large garden with a sizeable collection of medicinal herbs. Another interesting part of the house is that two separate structures are connected by a viaduct.
The houses also have an attic, I went up with the help of a ladder, using my small maglite I saw the original roof (tisa) construction and painted beams which indicates it some portion of the house use to be a chapel – the house, if restored properly could be one of the most well preserved bahay na bato in the country since it’s almost untouched (except with the paletada on the first floor by the Alvarez and the destruction of the monitor tower). The foundation is also of interest, it’s made of lumber (the whole tree!) that supports the structure from every corner, the method that was implied to raise this massive house is perfect. This is one of the reason why this house should be kept for Filipinos to understand, not only our Hispanic legacy, but also to study how our ancestors skills evolved from primitive straws and bamboos to the more complex use of hard materials, inspired by the building methods and religious art of the Spaniards but very Filipino in every sense (Bahay na Bato exist nowhere but only here in our islands!).
I was curious to know why the Sys did not demolish the old house since they needed the space for their hardware business. I got the answer from Venus, she said that some of his Bosses were educated by the Jesuits; I think she meant they’re from Ateneo. This could probably be the reason why they have Fr. Javellana, helping out them out. The project is a giant undertaking, it has started and so far it has been impressive. The dining room has been cleared; they also started to clear the rooms. I went down to see where the old observation tower once stands. It is still full of hardware materials, which I was told will eventually be moved out. Once all of these materials are out, they can begin the tedious process of cleaning and restoring the place.
The earliest photos and description of the house came from a Jesuit priest who travelled the islands to make a pictorial record of all Jesuit structures in the early 1900’s. Even his photos, though impressive and detailed, was taken long after the Jesuit house had been built. From the year of its construction, 1730 making it one of the oldest, the house had been altered by additions and demolitions (like the observation tower which was destroyed). Some changes could’ve taken place when the Jesuit was expelled from the islands. Although the structure and its architectural design has remained the same (based on the earliest archived photos), the potential of this place as a heritage site should be considered.
The Sys should be commended with what they have accomplished (the elder Sy after buying the property was said to have warned his sons not to touch the house), there’s a lot of work ahead and they need the support of the NHI and the local government. A simple marker is a good start; it will help boost the awareness of the people that this historic house exist. It escapes me why NHI haven’t installed one since the Jesuit House has been around and is very popular especially among local historians here (Ms. Brainard has written articles about the house). I have written Mr. Ambeth Ocampo about it, an Atenean like Jaime Sy, I know he have a soft spot for Jesuit history.
We’ll just have to wait and see what becomes of the Jesuit House of 1730.
They intend to close the house once they begin full restoration. There are no dates yet.
5 Septiembre 2009